By Hanna Booth
Over the past six months I’ve been lucky to meet and work with a wonderful group of third and final year veterinary students from the Ontario Veterinary Collage (OVA) in Guelph.
It’s an awesome and rewarding experience to engage and excite students about veterinary volunteerism.
They are as keen to learn as we are to teach, and having them around adds a lot of the laughter and lightheartedness to busy clinics.
It’s also a wonderful feeling to know these students are going to continue this volunteerism throughout their career and hopefully become mentors for future years of vet students.
It seems the current cohort of vet students have a lot more drive to become involved in volunteer aspects of their vet career than the students in my era of vet school. They are eager to take any opportunity to do volunteer outreach – even in the middle of tough exams and demanding rotations at school.
I wonder though, if the lack of volunteerism in my class was because we weren’t as connected with older colleagues who could mentor and engage us in these types of outreach opportunities.
Since the summer I’ve been working with the student leader of the Veterinary Outreach Club at the OVC to attempt to introduce a series of lectures on shelter medicine into the OVC curriculum.
OVC grads have little exposure to population health or “herd health” of companion animals, while they receive an abundance of lectures on herd health of dairy, beef, poultry and pigs.
Considering the majority of vets will be practicing companion animal medicine, and the leading cause for death of companion animals is overpopulation, it is important to expose vet students to basic shelter medicine practices and overpopulation prevention strategies.
Additionally, small animal practitioners will inevitably have patients that are adopted from shelters or clients that are looking for guidance on surrendering animals to shelters. It is important for vets to understand the function and resources of their local shelters so they can appropriately counsel clients.
While we haven’t yet been successful on the curriculum change, we have held a series of successful lunch-time lectures on shelter medicine at the OVC.
These lectures were well attended by students. Our lectures covered an overview of shelter medicine and companion animal overpopulation, shelter flow and protocols, high volume spay/neuter programs, pediatric sterilization and feral cat trap neuter return (TNR) programs.
We received a lot of positive and appreciative feedback from students, many of whom were eager for further knowledge and opportunities to engage in shelter medicine.
These lectures have also helped to recruit a fabulous group of students to become volunteers at our Toronto Street Cats feral spay clinics.
This group of cool, keen and astute vet students make the drive into Toronto for evening clinics and commit to a long, late night of spaying feral cats, while having to drive back to Guelph for an early day of lectures, labs and clinical rotations.
The students are an enormous help at clinics – assisting with physical exams, surgery prep and anesthetic monitoring. They come with such an enthusiastic energy and commitment to learn that it can’t help but be infectious to all the volunteers.
Students also have the opportunity to gain shelter experience through fourth year clinical rotations at either Toronto Animal Services or the Toronto Humane Society. The students can spend a week or two of their final year shadowing vets in the shelter or in spay/neuter clinics.
In the past few months more students seem to be participating in these external shelter rotations and all who I have talked to have gained significant hands-on experience and knowledge. Many have also remarked they appreciated the alternative learning environment that in many ways contrasts the “ivory tower” medicine of the OVC.
I’m encouraged by the next group of veterinary graduates. I’m eager to see what great things they accomplish and what this expanded awareness of companion animal overpopulation brings to the next generation of veterinarians.
Website of the month
Feature colony cat of the month
Owl is a four- to five-month-old short-haired brown tabby. She lived her life on the streets without any human contact until about two weeks ago. Her and her brother were trapped by a Good Samaritan/firefighter who brought them into the South Animal Services shelter.
Owl’s brother was more socialized and got adopted quickly from one of our adoption partners at Petsmart. Owl, however, will take a little time to learn to trust. She has come a long way in the last two weeks and will now cuddle in your arms, but is still a ways from being a well socialized cat.
If you have the time to dedicate to help Owl learn to trust humans – either as a foster or a permanent adoption – please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Owl’s shelter ID is A639432.
Hanna Booth is a shelter veterinarian with a special interest in targetted spay/neuter programs to combat pet overpopulation. Booth and her husband spent a year spaying street animals in Central America; worked as a veterinarian at the Toronto Humane Society; now works for Toronto Animal Services; is a leading member of the Toronto Feral Cat TNR Coalition; and also runs a volunteer program www.torontostreetcats.com. She lives in Roncesvalles with her husband, son, three former street cats and a revolving door of foster cats and kittens.